Bentley Systems recently held a major week-long user event in the Czech Republic to launch the long awaited MicroStation V8 XM, unveil ProjectWise StartPoint for entry-level collaboration and announce major enhancements to its Select program.
Prague is a beautiful city, of that there is no doubt. The majestic castle and bridge never fails to impress and every little turn always offers another architectural gem. Even though in summer it’s buzzing with tourists and British stag parties, this well preserved city, combined with the famous Czech hospitality, makes the destination an excellent one for a European user event, and that works doubly so when the World Cup is on.
Bentley has had a European jamboree for its users once before, in Rome, but this was many, many years ago. Since then it has kept its yearly main event strictly in the US, moving about the East coast through Philadelphia, Baltimore, North Carolina and Florida. Prague represents a significant return of focus to Europe for the company, running its Prague ‘mirror’ event only a week after the US BE (Bentley Empowered). Many of the company’s executives were in town for the event, headed up by Bentley CEO, Greg Bentley.
There were a large number of product and business strategy announcements at the event, with the core focus on the latest version of MicroStation V8 – called XM. MicroStation still acts as the core platform for most of Bentley’s vertical products for Process Plant, AEC, Civils and GeoSpatial. Strangely enough, Bentley is one of Autodesk’s biggest developers (although that’s an unofficial title), also owning a number of applications that run on, or alongside, AutoCAD.
MicroStation V8 XM
V8 was the last release of MicroStation and it was a major reworking of the product, especially with regards to the database and capabilities behind the scenes of the CAD product. The work resulted in a major change to MicroStation’s file format, DGN but provided Bentley with an interesting edge, offering dual format support for its own and AutoCAD’s DWG format. For years, Bentley’s customers had complained about problems working within a DWG world and in V8, Bentley pretty much removed many of these issues, allowing MicroStation to work in either format – a major engineering challenge.
The downside was that while V8 was a lot of engineering work, it still looked the same as the previous editions of MicroStation and really was falling behind the competition in user interface and graphics capabilities. V8 XM is the completion of this major product overhaul, entirely replacing the graphics pipeline and significantly whizzing up the 3D performance. XM by the way doesn’t stand for anything.
For those of you that have never used or owned MicroStation, Bentley has a continuous improvement development process as part of its Select subscription, which means that it’s always hard for journalists to tell you what it can and can’t do as it’s continually having functionality added to it!
In the past Bentley has lead the way with many innovations like Xrefs, image manipulation tools and CAD management aids. While Autodesk has recently picked up the innovation gauntlet, XM has a few cool new things in it beyond the 3D graphics enhancements:
Element Templates: It’s now possible to integrate CAD standards with MicroStation Tasks to align features and tools with design and production workflows, so that teams can create consistent work.
ProjectWise StartPoint: Document management is now built-in providing an entry-level collaboration tool to manage, find, and share CAD and geospatial content using Microsoft Office SharePoint technologies. The product works with MicroStation and AutoCAD.
Reference Enhancements: You can attach a PDF reference to a design file, dynamically manipulate reference clipping boundaries with handles, and attach multiple instances of the same model at different stages of development using Design History – a unique V8 feature that lets you roll forwards and backwards through design milestones.
Link Sets: By placing special links between documents and across formats including DGN, DWG, PDF, and Office formats, it’s possible to collate related documents and this can be leveraged by ProjectWise.
PANTONE and RAL colour systems: Catching up with AutoCAD, MicroStation now supports 24-bit colour to deliver richer, more consistent presentations.
DirectX graphics system: As we pointed out recently, there’s a new display subsystem in town and it uses Microsoft DirectX technologies which are used to drive high-speed graphics technology in the video gaming industry, brings a significant increase view and navigation speed in 2D and 3D designs. It also places MicroStation in an easy to port to Microsoft Vista’s operating system, whenever it gets released.
3D modelling advancements: A big beef up in the 3D department to coincide with the new speedy graphics engine, MicroStation now offers 3D parametrics, mesh modelling for creating lightweight structures, and new handles for intuitive and interactive editing. Visualisation and animation have also been improved.
And finally, Keyboard Position Assignments: Bentley has introduced ‘Patented keyboard position assignment’ to provide immediate access to any MicroStation command at the stroke of a key, and programmable mouse functionality to increase the performance of view and model navigation. While this sounds grand, MicroStation has always had powerful keyboard shortcuts.
Even though Autodesk released AutoCAD 2007 in March with a new DWG file format, MicroStation V8 XM doesn’t yet support the new DWG format. Bentley is reliant on the Open Design Alliance (ODA) to reverse engineer the format and hand over the libraries. We were told that once the ODA had done this, MicroStation V8 XM will have that functionality added to it, probably within one of the regular Select upgrades.
Overall, MicroStation has undergone a big change over the last two releases. It’s taken quite a while to get there, XM having been in beta for the last year alone. The inclusion of ProjectWise Sharepoint promises to be a significant benefit for MicroStation customers that couldn’t justify the cost of implementing full ProjectWise and could lead to wide-spread adoption of Bentley’s PDM tool within its base. Bentley has also targeted Autodesk customers with a special port of the application at what sounds like an attractive price per seat.
While it’s hard to get excited about a vanilla CAD system these days, it’s pretty obvious to see how Bentley’s vertical product portfolio will make great use of the new 3D technologies within MicroStation v8 XM. At first we are expecting to see mainly flat ports of existing applications but over time, XM will drive 3D functionality and adoption.
Long standing readers of AEC magazine will be well aware of my fascination with Bentley’s Generative Component technology. There’s very little out there to compete with this parametric form-finding application that is built on MicroStation. The event included a number of end-user presentations describing how Generative Components has already been used on a number of major projects, the largest of which is a soon-to-be-built London skyscraper designed by KPF.
While the software has been in development and beta for almost three years, it’s now getting to be proven in the field. Generative Components offers a programmatic way for designers to scope out their designs and interactively adjust and interact with complex frameworks to derive optimal forms. At the event Lars Hesselgren of KPF demonstrated that its latest tower project had a number of last minute height changes which were easily catered for by the Generative model which he had created.
It looks like Generative Components will get its official launch in September of this year. A recent popular event at the British Design Museum attracted many London and New York based practices, who are all experimenting and looking at these sorts of generative designs.
Robert Aish, Bentley’s Director of Research gave me a one-on-one demonstration of how a Generative Component model is created. In the workshops I have to admit that it appeared as if extensive programming knowledge was required but I’m glad to say that it’s fairly straightforward to build simple frameworks, using standard MicroStation geometry and a point and click interface. Once the concepts have been mastered, some programming knowledge will be required but I think the early and useable results will drive people to skill up to drive the system to solve more complex problems.
Select is Bentley’s subscription program. For a set fee, customers get support, regular upgrades, pooled licences and many other things. This year Bentley upgraded Select to offer even more and one unique benefit.
From September 1, Bentley adds three new three offerings within Select, now nine in total:
1 Annual license exchange (new)
2 Pooled and Trust licensing
3 Continuous product development and updates
4 OnDemand eLearning (new)
5 BE Conference registration
6 Help desk
7 ProjectWise user subscription (new)
8 Additional software to extend the enterprise
9 Select membership in the Bentley Developer Network
The main event here is the annual licence exchange. Bentley says that this protects an organisation’s investment in Bentley software. It does this by providing subscribers with the opportunity to rebalance their technology portfolio in the year ahead. To do this, Bentley has first stated that all software on maintenance is worth the current list price. So while you may have bought MicroStation six years ago, it’s worth the current list price of MicroStation when you go to trade it in for another Bentley product. That’s like owning a car for six years and never losing any value off it – which is pretty cool. Once a year as you re-subscribe you can re-allocate licenses and products from the Bentley portfolio for the value of the software you trade in. This is an industry first. Software licenses can be exchanged to accommodate changing business requirements, replace underutilised licenses or as part of a ‘trade-up’ to new Bentley technology.
Online eLearning courses should help keep users skill up or move from one release to another. I think this is great technology although I am unconvinced that it’s as good as one on one training but then again it’s free and as it’s part of Select you can sit through it as many times as you want. There is definitely a skills shortage with MicroStation users few and far between. I don’t think this is the solution for that but anything to assist increase the pool of users would be welcome.
Finally it’s worth mentioning the new trust licensing model. In the past, Bentley customers have been able to use pooled licenses, allowing a company to buy fewer licenses than users, and let MicroStation be a shared resource. The new strategy is to remove this limit, which impacts Bentley customer’s productivity. So with the new XM Select server, there will not be a limit to the number of licenses that can be handed out. Instead, usage will be sent to Bentley and over many, many months (Bentley is being a bit vague here but the indication is a year), the company will gauge your usage and come back if you regularly use more than the number of licenses you own. It’s kind of like an honesty bar but Bentley is watching.
I had a number of conversations with users over this and the trust licensing caused the most concern. The pooled version meant that the first thing users did when they got into work was to start a copy of MicroStation, so they could hold onto the license all day. Despite trying to get users to use the system properly, MicroStation license scarcity drove users to hoard! The concern is that with trust licensing users will continue the culture of hogging and then run up a bill with Bentley. Bentley has tried to limit this worry, saying that only obvious abusers will be picked out. It’s also possible to time out MicroStation sessions. I can see what Bentley thinks it’s offering users here and if used correctly, could be of great benefit. There’s just an element of big brother about usage reports and users fear additional expenditure. I am sure this will work out over the next year.
While on the subject of Select and subscription models, I have talked with users of many different CAD systems and there seems to be a growing wariness of subscription, in that it’s a honey pot designed to tie you in and become more reliant on one technology vendor. I can see their point. Rapidly, users are questioning the value they get from the yearly membership fees, as CAD systems become more and more like a service than a product. Bentley has an enviable subscription model in the CAD industry and from these recent announcements is undoubtedly aware of the on-going value assessment.
Bentley BE Forum, Prague was a successful event in all, with lots of good product and end-user benefits announced. Bentley is continuing to develop its technology portfolio and broaden its flexibility with customers. One wonders if Bentley’s marketing will increase, as its presence has certainly been absent in the European market. Having a major launch event in Europe once more, is a start. We hope to review MicroStation V8 XM soon.